Posts Tagged 'Anointing'

James, Part 5

Simon Legree

Simon Legree

King Solomon, who knew a thing or two about wealth, wrote this:

The blessing of the Lord brings wealth, without painful toil for it.  (Proverbs 10:22  NIV)

We know this is true because it was written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and since we believe in the verbal plenary inspiration of Scripture, that verse not only conveys God’s thoughts on the matter, but also the words He would have used had He written personally.  John Milton wrote something about wealth, too.  What he wrote isn’t inspired, but it’s noteworthy:

There is nothing that makes men rich and strong but that which they carry inside of them.  Wealth is of the  heart, not of the hand.

Riches may be a blessing of the Lord, but wealth without the Lord’s blessing is always accompanied by trouble in the form of jealousy, misery, oppression, theft, murder, abuse, and even fear.  A believer may start out with love for God and neighbor, but that love can become love for wealth and money when that believer takes his eyes off God and begins to pursue the things of the world.  When possessing wealth and money becomes more important that possessing God, a believer becomes a friend of the world and an enemy of God.

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.  (1 Timothy 6:10  NIV)  

Pursue justice

Wealthy church members need not be offended because James 5:1 – 6 is directed at wealth unbelievers; Christians are not the targets of James’ admonitions.  That comes later on the chapter.

Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you.  (James 5:1  NIV)

Wealthy people, by the way, are never condemned anywhere in the Bible simply because they are wealthy.  Rather, God always warns against the temptations to which the wealthy are especially prone.  Wealth without God’s blessing, as noted previously, causes problems.  That’s why even the Apocrypha says this:

Lose your money to a brother and a friend, and let it not rust hidden beneath a stone.  (Sirach 29:10)  

James has in mind unbelievers who are in the habit of  hoarding their riches.  Here’s a good example of the power and influence of the Word of God.  It’s teachings are for everybody, believer or not.  James will deal with wealthy believer in a few verses, but here’s his warning to the non-Christian –

Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes.  Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days.  (James 4:2, 3  NIV)

Unsaved people already live lives that are empty, unsatisfied, and often full of misery and fear, but wealth that is hoarded piles on even more problems.  Wealth takes many forms, but James teaches all forms of wealth, if hoarded, will rot, will get eaten up, and corrode over time.  His more famous half-brother taught the same thing, a few years earlier –

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  (Matthew 6:19 – 21  NIV)

Nothing in this world is permanent, as much as we may wish otherwise.  When wealth is not used for positive things, like helping other people, it testifies against the person who possesses it.  In other words, that wealth will most certainly harm the possessor, or at the very least, that hoarded wealth won’t do the poor schlub any good at all.

Christians shouldn’t live like that; ungodly people do, but Christians shouldn’t.  Our attitude toward wealth and earthly possessions should be based on the notion that not a single possession is permanent; they are all like the waves of the sea – they come and go.  How foolish is it to build your destiny on the instability and impermanence of earthly riches?  Instead, believers ought to receive God’s blessings with gratitude but then use them wisely, for the glory of God and the benefit of others.  Why is this benevolence and philanthropy so important?  It’s because when we take note of the needs of others and do what we can to help them out, we are reflecting God’s generosity toward us.

But remember, James is addressing unbelievers, and pretty despicable ones at that.  They were guilty of treating other people very shabbily.

Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.  (James 6:4  NIV)

James is addressing certain wealthy people, not all of them.  These verses shouldn’t be read with a universal application.  Not all wealthy people and business owners are like this; most of them are not.  God always hears the cries of the oppressed.  He heard the Israelites in Egypt and when any person or people are oppressed or caused to suffer anywhere in the world, God hears them.  He is the great equalizer.  The wealthy who hoard their wealth thus causing others to suffer will themselves be the recipients of suffering caused their attitude toward what they possess.  That’s the Biblical “law of reciprocity” at work.  A person reaps what they sow.  A lot of people are familiar with that so-called law even if they don’t know it’s in the Bible.  But here it is in its full context –

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.  Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.  Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.  Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.  (Galatians 6:7 – 10  NIV)

It’s pretty clear.  When God blesses people, they are to bless others.  This is especially true of Christians.

The last beef James has against these wealthy unbelievers relates to something he wrote back in chapter 2 –

Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court?  (James 2:6  NIV)

And here James fleshes out what he wrote above –

You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.  (James 5:6  NIV)

It’s not Jesus James is referring to, although you might find some Bible scholars who think that.  Apparently James is addressing a particular incident that happened.  Some wealthy unbelievers had literally dragged at least one innocent righteous man into court and had him executed for no reason.

Rarely does a New Testament writer turn his attention to anybody outside the church, but here James is fullbore accusing these men of a crime.

Be patient

Knowing what we know now, we can easily understand why James encouraged his readers earlier on in his letter.  They were facing persecution – all kinds of persecution including that from these wealthy unbelievers.  The persecution was bad enough, but it seemed to the Christians that these non-Christians were prospering in spite of what they were doing.  That’s a seeming inequity believers in God have long wondered about.

For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.  They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong.  (Psalm 73:3, 4  NIV)

Believers need to be careful what thoughts they allow to remain in their heads!  If you’re not careful and you dwell on the unfairness of it all, you’ll slip into sin.  Patience is what’s needed.

Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming.  (James 5:7  NIV)

This sounds like a cliché, but it really is the very best way to approach the situation of persecution and suffering, and for two very good reasons.  First, when the Lord returns in glory, the ungodly will be judged.  They will finally get theirs and all their wealth and prestige will be for nothing.  And second, when the Lord returns believers will be completely vindicated in every way.

If we truly believe this, then our attitude should reflect it.

Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!  (James 5:9  NIV)

More good advice from James!   We ought to be careful what attitudes we harbor because those attitudes will dictate our actions.  The Lord who is returning is also the Judge.  That should govern what we think and how we behave.  Lee Strobel comments –

Acrid bitterness inevitably seeps into the lives of people who harbor grudges and suppress anger, and bitterness is always a poison.  It keeps your pain alive instead of letting you deal with it and get beyond it.  Bitterness sentences you to relive the hurt over and over.

Respect the Lord’s Name!

All of a sudden, James takes a sharp turn:

Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. All you need to say is a simple “Yes” or “No.” Otherwise you will be condemned.  (James 5:12  NIV)

A lot of Christians like to take this verse and apply it globally.  That is, some see this as a complete prohibition of all oath-taking.  That’s not what James is getting at here.  “Above all” is a phrase the NIV uses to tie the admonition of verse 12 to what he’s been dealing with.  In spite of all the persecution, Christians need to be patient because the Lord is coming back and He will make everything right.  Christians should take care to treat all people, rich or poor, equitably.  Christians should keep it simple:  just say “yes” or “no” and stop misusing the Lord’s good Name.  The Christian should be honest in his attitudes, honest in his actions, and honest in his speech.  Using the Lord’s Name to buttress questionable attitudes must never happen.  D.A. Carson made a shrewd observation –

No oath is necessary for the truthful person.

Learn to depend on God

Here’s more good advice for these persecuted Christians who were trying to gain the favor of the wealthy people who were persecuting them:  Depend of God!  Instead of wasting time and effort currying the favor of people harming them; instead of misusing God’s name, these Christians needed to learn how to depend on God through praying properly.

Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray.  Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise.  (James 5:13  NIV)

Don’t complain, don’t grumble, don’t seek to mollify those mean, nasty rich  people!  Pray about it!  Turn to God and depend on Him.  And if you’re happily living without persecution for the moment, thank God for it.  In other words, God should always be first on the mind of believers no matter what the circumstance.

Included in circumstances one should depend on God is sickness.  James gives Christians the template for dealing with that circumstance –

Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord.  (James 5:14  NIV)

That’s more good advice from James, an elder himself.  If a Christian is sick, he should call for guys like himself – elders from the church – to come and pray for them and anoint them with oil.  By adding the phrase, “in the name of the Lord,” James is simply saying that both acts need to be done in faith believing that God’s will concerning the sick person will be done.

A word about the word “anoint.”  The Greek word James used, aleipsantes, is not – NOT –  sacramental or sacred anointing, but rather a word that simply means to “smear.”  James is not advising a religious use of oil here.  For example, when we want to fix a leaky door, we don’t “anoint” the hinge with oil, we “oil” it.  That’s what James is getting at.  In the first century of the Church, oil was used by sick people like sick people today use aspirin.  If you were sick during James’ day, you would apply some oil to your hurting body.  Today we take two aspirins and call the doctor in the morning.  What James is getting at here is powerful common sense.  When you are sick (in any age), trust God and call your pastor or an elder to come and pray for you.  But take an aspirin, too. Do both things trusting the Lord will bring about His will for you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

LESSONS FROM A BROKEN HEART

Luke 7:36—50

 

The real power of this passage is derived from a verse taken from the previous paragraph:

The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’   (verse 34)

 

This criticism of Jesus does not stop Him from continuing to show concern for sinners.  In verse 30, Luke had drawn our attention to the self-righteous Pharisees, and so now beginning with verse 36, the skillful chronicler of Jesus’ life and ministry weaves the perfect example of both:  Pharisee and sinner.

Long before the times of Jesus, there existed a group of honorable men known as “separatists.”  They were radical in their time for they sought to preserve the holiness and essential tenets of Judaism at a time when the Jewish faith was becoming more and more secular.  The “separatists” were an honorable group, without whose efforts and dedication the Jewish faith would have disappeared from Israel all together.

However, by the era of the New Testament, the “separatists,” or the Pharisees as they had come be known, were dominated by legalism, ritualism and blind formality.   The Pharisees had come to make holiness a matter of rules and regulations than of the spirit.  The very men who should have been championing the cause of Jesus were His greatest enemies.

As our story begins, a Pharisee named Simon had invited Jesus over this his house for supper.  There is a bit of irony here that may be intentional.  They, the Pharisees, had just accused Jesus of “slumming” with disreputable characters, yet the very next moment, He is eating with a Pharisee!

1.  Tearful anointing, verses 36—38

 

This story is seen only here in the Gospels.  It is not dissimilar to the account of Jesus’ eating with Simon the leper (see Matthew 26:6—13; Mark 14:3—9; John 12:1—9), but while there may be similarities, this episode stands alone.

We don’t have a timeframe for the events of this account, but it seems to have taken place early in Jesus’ ministry.

When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table.

We are filled with questions regarding this dinner invitation.  Though at this early stage of our Lord’s work the Pharisees were increasingly wary of Him, they had not yet severed all ties with Him.  So why did Simon invite this radical rabbi to dine with him in the first place?  He may have been filled with questions like Nicodemus was before him.   Simon had heard all these stories about Jesus being a “prophet,” so maybe he wanted to see firsthand if the stories were true.  Or maybe Simon’s motives were little darker; perhaps he wanted to have an opportunity to find a basis for charging Jesus with some sort of bogus charge.

We might also be curious as to why Jesus would accept such an invitation.  Everything Jesus did, every person He spoke to, and every place He went during His ministry years were not happenstance or coincidental.  His words, His journeys, and His encounters with people were all carefully calculated to show who He was and why He was there.  Accepting this dinner invitation would have put the kibosh on any accusation that Jesus avoided Pharisees socially or that He was as wary of them as they were of Him.

Beyond his name and station in life, we know nothing about this Pharisee.

A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume.

In New Testament parlance, this woman could have been a prostitute.  The phrase “sinful life” carried with it far more shameful connotations that it does today.  Of course, she may not have been a prostitute; this is merely an assumption Bible scholars make.  Her designation as “a sinner” (literal) would have been how the Pharisees saw her, not Luke.  However, we notice a remarkable thing.  Whatever she had once been she was no longer.  She came to Jesus already a changed woman.  It is reasonable to assume that Jesus ministered to and converted many more people than we have accounts for in the Gospels!  She must have heard the words of Jesus on previous occasions and she must have experienced pardon for her “sinful life.”  How else can we explain why she came to Jesus while He was dining and came carrying a jar of perfume?

Was coming to a dinner uninvited an unusual occurrence?  Was this woman a “party crasher?”  In fact, this woman took advantage of the accepted social custom of the day to come and be with Jesus.  At that time, those who were truly needy were permitted to visit such a banquet so they could be given the leftovers.  However, while that may explain why she was allowed to be there, Luke makes it clear that she did not come to receive anything from the Pharisee, but rather to give something to Jesus.

She carried with her an “alabaster jar of perfume.”  Alabaster is a type of gypsum, very fine and usually white in color.  This particular jar was probably quite beautiful, though not nearly as hard as, say, marble.  Alabaster jars or boxes of this type were generally used to hold expensive perfume.

[A]nd as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

It was customary to recline at a table across a couch in the Palestine of Jesus’ day.  His feet would have been extended in the opposite direction from the table, making it easy for this woman to come and stand them.  She came to anoint His feet with her perfume.  It may have been more common to anoint them with water or maybe olive oil, but she apparently wanted to give her best to Jesus, probably out of gratitude for what He had done for her.  Overcome with emotion, though, she had begun to cry and it was her tears that covered His feet.  Only heart completely freed from sin could have reacted so.  The anointing with perfume would have been a profound act in and of itself, but anointing Jesus with a part of herself was in indication that her whole being was dedicated to Him.

With His feet soaked in what Martin Luther referred to as “heart water,” this woman impulsively did what no woman ought to have done in public:  she loosened her hair and let fall free.  Having nothing else to wipe off her tears with, she used all that she had:  her hair.  And at the same time, her tears mingled with perfume, already dripping from the broken alabaster jar.

2.  Put in his place, verses 39—43

 

This whole display was unbelievably shameful to Simon the Pharisee.  What this woman did had greatly offended his sense of what was proper and acceptable behavior.  But what offended him more was the fact that Jesus did nothing to stop her!

When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

 

This verse is amusing.  While Simon was musing to himself about the limitations of Jesus’ prophetic insight (he assumed Jesus was unaware that this woman was a sinner), Jesus was reading Simon’s mind and forming the correct conclusion about his character!

In fact, in the exchange that follows, Jesus zeroes in on and exposes Simon’s faulty thinking.

  • Jesus demonstrates that He does know this woman extremely well.  He knows her past history and her present condition.
  • Jesus, in what must have been an eye-opening fashion, showed that He knew exactly what was in Simon’s mind.
  • This showed that Jesus was precisely what Simon was told He was:  a prophet.  In fact, Jesus proved that He was much more than that; He was One who could look inside a person’s mind and heart and discern their inne- most thoughts and intents.
  • This whole episode showed that Jesus Christ was nothing less than divine; One sent from God who had the authority to forgive sins and the power to change lives.

When our Lord told Simon, “Simon, I have something to tell you,” Simon could not have imagined what was coming!  He probably expected some interesting words of wisdom from Jesus, who Himself had proven to be an interesting, if not somewhat radical teacher.

Jesus told Simon a parable about two people that were in debt—something most of us can relate to.  The parable is simplicity itself:

“Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

When Simon says, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled,” he is not only sure of his answer, but he also knows where Jesus is heading with the story.   He is condemned by his own words.

But Jesus is kind; He knew that the Pharisee “got it,” and so as if to take Simon off the hot seat, Jesus calls his attention back to the woman at His feet.  However, in doing so, Simon would be made to shamed.

Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.”

In essence, the Lord is telling Simon that he did not exercise even the most common of courtesies when Jesus came in to his home.  In other words, Simon may have been a respected religious teacher, but he had no manners!

Had Simon acted as he ought to have, HE, not the woman, would have washed Jesus’ feet as the owner of the home and host of the dinner should have.  HE, not the woman, should have greeted Jesus with a kiss.  And Simon, not the woman, should have anointed Christ’s head, at the very least with the cheapest olive oil he could find; yet he did not.  Every one of those actions was the custom of the day when one had callers, and Simon, to his shame, ignored custom when it came to Jesus.  Jesus, the Son of God, apparently was not worth the trouble.  Simon proved to everybody, as Jesus so adroitly pointed out in front of everybody, that he was thoughtless and virtually loveless.  Simon showed himself for what he was:  cold and patronizing.

In all three instances, Simon treated Jesus exactly opposite to the way he should have treated our Lord.  And in all three instances, this poor, lowly woman with no social standing treated Jesus above and beyond the call of custom:

  • Instead of washing Jesus’ feet with water, the woman used her tears, which indicated repentance and sorrow.
  • Instead of greeting Jesus with a kiss on His cheek, she kissed Him fervently all over His feet, which indicated humble gratitude.
  • Instead of anointing Jesus’ head with cheap and plentiful olive oil, she poured precious and personal perfume on His feet.

She went way, way beyond what was expected.  But then, why wouldn’t she?  After all, she loved Jesus with all of her heart.  He deserved no less than all she had to give.

3.  Application

 

The story ends with what the woman already knew:  she stood forgiven in God’s presence.  Nobody could have done what she did if she had not already experienced the forgiveness of her sins.

What Jesus did and said is remarkable on so many levels.  Simon was the man who regarded himself as a righteous lover of Jehovah and less sinful than others, and he considered this woman as an unforgiven sinner with no standing in society or before Jehovah.  Jesus, though, taught that it was Simon who stood unforgiven before God because of his obvious lack of love in how he treated the Son of God.

The woman’s treatment of Jesus showed two things:  (1) the great love she had for Him, and (2) a sense that she had been forgiven and her life radically changed by Jesus.  What she did, she did out of gratitude and appreciation.

Simon’s treatment of Jesus showed two things:  (1) he had no love for God for he had no knowledge of who Jesus really was, and (2) because Jesus was not part of his “circle,” he treated the Lord with contempt and dishonor.

Of Simon’s behavior, we might remark that it was to be expected.  Why would an unrepentant sinner go out of his way to make the Son of God welcome in his home?  But at the same time, we who claim to love Jesus and who have experienced His grace and mercy, must constantly be aware of how WE treat our Lord.  Sometimes, I fear, we who ought to treat Jesus as the forgiven woman did, treat Jesus worse than Simon did.  Many of us have the bad habit of giving Jesus our leftovers:  our leftover time, our leftover attention, and our leftover love.  Surely the Man who gave all for us deserves a little more than just our leftovers.

(c)  2010 WitzEnd

GOD’S ANOINTED: The Boy Who Would Be King

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1 Samuel 16

The people of Israel wanted a King and they chose, in concert with God, a man by the name of Saul.  Even though Saul was technically Israel’s first monarch, it is accurate to say that because of his continued disobedience to the Word of the Lord, his rule was aborted and with the rapid rise of David, a true and lasting monarchy was finally established.  While Saul’s ascension to the throne was a complex combination of both Divine sovereignty and human desire, the choice of David was God’s alone.

Saul’s decline was long.  However, the fact that he would have no dynasty became apparent early in his reign.  Yet God continued to allow Saul to rule over Israel.  Of course, it is folly to attempt to discern God’s reasons for doing things when His Word is silent, but we may speculate, and our speculations involve all the parties involved in Saul’s kingship.  Clearly God knew that Saul would be a complete failure, but Saul needed to know the price of his disobedience.  Samuel also needed to know the truth about Saul, for Samuel genuinely loved him.  The people who chose Saul needed to see the results of his rebellion and the results of their choice.  So for those reasons, it seems to me, God allowed Saul to linger on and on as a king.

With chapter 16, the subject of the book changes and we now see David in stark contrast to Saul; we continue to see Saul’s decline and David’s rise, and there are many lessons to be learned, not the least of which would be taught by our Lord many centuries later, for Saul’s biggest problem is man’s biggest problem—

But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.  (Matthew 7:26)

Saul was building his house on the sands of his own imagination and ambition.  If he had only been obedient to the Word of the Lord and tried to do God’s will instead of his own, how different things would have worked out for King Saul.  Man’s wisdom, no matter how clever he considers himself, will always be foolishness to God.

1.  God’s choice, verse 1

The LORD said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.”

It is not known how soon the events of this first verse began after those of the concluding verse of the previous chapter, but the Lord’s words to His prophet Samuel, “How long” seem to be a kind of rebuke to him.  One can only imagine how deep and intense Samuel’s grief over Saul must have been.  But God’s will and His work is ever pressing forward, and now was the time for Samuel pick himself up and look forward, leaving the past behind.  “What might have been” would never be, so the prophet was encouraged to look to the future, in which God’s plans would come to pass.

There is a singular lesson here:  the will of God and our relationship with Him is far more valuable and important than anything else or anyone else in our lives.  As dear as the wants or supposed needs of our family and friends may be, if we deem ourselves followers of Christ, then what He wants must always take precedence.   Those special relationships in our lives are important, but putting them ahead of Christ reveals what you think of Christ and the cost of such an action may be expensive.

What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?  (Matthew 16:25—27)

The fact is, while Samuel was busy looking back, God had already been looking ahead and had prepared someone to take Saul’s place.  God’s statement to Samuel is interesting.  He tells the prophet:  “I have chosen one of his sons to be king.”  Literally the phrase means “I saw…for myself a king.”  It is true that “saw” here is related to “choose,” yet the phrase gives us a glimpse into the mind of the Lord:  He sees what we cannot.  Before David became king, God saw him as king.  Also of note is the first contrast between the choice of Saul and the choice of David.  Read carefully these two verses—

Of Saul, the Lord said:  And the LORD said to Samuel, Hearken unto their voice, and make them a king. (8:22, KJV)

Of David, the Lord said:  “I have chosen one of his sons to be king.”  (16:1, NIV)

Clearly, Saul was really the people’s choice, but David was the Lord’s.

David was being prepared, or groomed, to be God’s king over Israel by doing a most remarkable, if unimpressive thing:  he was faithfully tending and defending his father’s sheep—

But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock,  I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it.  Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. (17:34—36)

God frequently chooses the foolish things of this world, but He never chooses lazy things!  Nobody looking at David could see him as a king, but the Lord could.  David had two things going for him:  He was chosen by God and God saw the potential that lay deep within David because David was already a faithful son and worker.  Do you think for one moment it was David’s desire to be a shepherd for his whole life?  Of course not!  We have the benefit of knowing how David thought and lived and we can read a tremendous body of work that revealed a passionate, ambitious man.

It is fine to be ambitious, but what God wants are servants who will seek to do His will, not seek a promotion.  That is what He found in David.  When God looks at us, He sees the real person.  God knows our strengths and weaknesses.  God knows what we are capable of doing.  We should never be afraid that our “gifts” or “talents” or “wisdom” will go unused.   God knew that Paul would become the greatest missionary and preacher that ever lived, but it 12 years of living in obscurity before Paul would begin the work to which he was called.

2.  Samuel’s commission, verses 2, 3

The LORD said, “Take a heifer with you and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the LORD.’  Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what to do. You are to anoint for me the one I indicate.”

The Lord’s choice of Saul’s successor would be found among the eight sons of a man named Jesse, who lived in Bethlehem.  Jesse was the grandson of Boaz and Ruth.  You will recall that Ruth was not a Jew, but a Moabitess.  It is interesting that the mother of Boaz was also not Jew; her name was Rahab of Jericho.  David, like our Lord, has an interesting lineage!

Naturally, Samuel was concerned that Saul would seek vengeance, so the Lord arranges a clever cover for him.  When Samuel arrives in town, the townsfolk were afraid.  It seems that Samuel, as a reward for keeping the Word the Lord, became fearful and invoked fear in others!  In reality, circumstances were grim in those days, thanks to Saul’s state of mind.  It’s amazing how a country’s leader can change the whole mood of the citizenry.  Equally amazing is the authority a person has when they are a mission from God.

At any rate, what should be noted is the preciseness of the Lord’s directions to Samuel.  David, the son of Jesse, was God’s chosen one, and so God Himself will dictate how David will achieve what God has called Him to.  David may have had an earthly father, but his relationship with God took precedence over that, or any other earthly relationship; Samuel may have had his own good ideas about how to approach Jesse and how to choose the right candidate, but God’s idea about how to get the job done took precedence over any good ideas Samuel might have had.

God told Samuel to fill his horn with oil so as to anoint David as king.  It would take a while before Saul’s monarchy would whimper to a close, but the moment David’s head was covered with the anointing oil, he was, in God’s estimation, Israel’s king; he didn’t look like, and he may not have felt like it, but David was the king.  It took a long time for David to physically claim the throne, but that did not negate God’s will for David.

We tend to be very impatient even with God, but remember these words and remember them well—

[H]e who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.  (Philippians 1:6b)

Samuel went to Bethlehem in God’s name, with God’s message, doing it God’s way.  That is real authority; for the man of God, true authority descends from heaven and is received through the Word of God.

3.  Looking for the king, verse 11

So he asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?”

“There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered, “but he is tending the sheep.”   Samuel said, “Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.”

This verse always makes me chuckle.  Jesse had paraded all his sons past Samuel, but the Lord was not taken in with good looks.  How one looks and the charm they may possess means nothing to God.  It is with the heart man believes, so the Lord looks a man’s heart—

[T]he LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”  (verse 7)

There are so me tremendous principles for Christians to latch on to throughout 1 Samuel.  Remember back in chapter 15, we read this—

“Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD ?
To obey is better than sacrifice,
and to heed is better than the fat of rams.”  (15:22)

Christians demonstrate their love for God, not by the may feel or by what theysay in their testimonies, but by whether or not they are obeying Him.  The Christian life is not a collection of Utopian ideologies, it is  seen in how we live.  When God looks at those who claim to love Him, he looks at the heart.  We are terrible at that; most of us are taken by a smooth talker, a clever turn of words or pleasing appearance.  But none of that has any effect on God because God is the original inside Man:  He sees us from the inside out.

2 Corinthians 10:18 says—

For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.

It is not what we think of ourselves, or what others think of us,  it is what God thinks of us that matters.  David, the young shepherd boy, the least of Jesse’s sons, was the very last one they thought of but he was God’s choice.  In man’s estimation, intelligence and appearance are of great weight, but when it comes to God’s scales, a humble, hard working heart is what tips them.

4.  The anointing, verse 13

So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the LORD came upon David in power. Samuel then went to Ramah.

In choosing David it is interesting that while “God looks at the heart,” the Scripture has this to say about David’s appearance—

He was ruddy, with a fine appearance and handsome features.  (verse 12)

Is this a contradiction?  Of course not; David was not only the “youngest,” the Hebrew word also means “smallest,” meaning that in terms of stature, David was a short man.  David was not a particularly impressive man, but he was no gargoyle, either.  In fact, David was probably just an average man.

Some scholars have pointed out a clever, but obscure bit of symbolism.  Consider this:  when we are first introduced to Saul, we see him looking for his father’s donkeys, but when we first meet David, he is tending his father’s sheep.  In the ancient world, it was common to refer to Kings as shepherds and their citizens as sheep.   Saul was no shepherd and he did not treat his people like sheep!  On the other hand, David would forever be known as “the shepherd king.”

When Samuel anointed David with the oil, symbolic of the Holy Spirit, we are told—

From that day on the Spirit of the LORD came upon David in power.

This is the very first time David is mentioned by name in the books of Samuel, and his brothers bore witness that he was anointed both by man and by God.  From time to time throughout the Old Testament, we are told that the Spirit of God came upon Godly men at times, temporarily, for specific purposes; however, David is the only man who, before Pentecost, experienced the permanent presence of the Holy Spirit in his life.   This one event changed David’s life and represented the triumph of Samuel’s long career.  The last sentence of verse 13 indicated that Samuel’s work in the nation was all but over, and although we read about him once in a while later on, he no longer plays an active role in his books.

The power of the Holy Spirit in David’s life, and in the life all believers for that matter, cannot be overstated.  Every life that is dedicated and consecrated to Christ is a life lived in the anointing of the Holy Spirit.  It is true that we have the gifts of the Spirit today and that at special times we may experience a special “unction” of the Spirit, but every believer may experience what David experienced.  God does not expect us to live our lives bereft of His presence, and He has given us His Holy Spirit to make living a life that is pleasing to Him possible.

What is particularly interesting about David’s relationship with God is this profound verse found chapter 13; fully three chapters before the events of this present chapter—

But now your kingdom will not endure; the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of his people, because you have not kept the LORD’s command.” (13:14)

David was a “man after God’s own heart” long before he was publicly chosen and anointed.  Long before God revealed His heart to Samuel and Jesse and to the people of Israel, His mind was made up about David because David was a “man after His own heart.”   How did God know this about David?  God knew because He and He alone is able to see into man’s heart, and even though for the present David was mere shepherd, God knew that inside David beat the heart of a king.  And even though years later when David sinned and experienced terrible setbacks, and the future looked bleak indeed,  God never forsook His king because David’s heart never changed.  God sees what we cannot.

(c)  2009 WitzEnd

Anointed for Service

Galatians 1:11—17

Understanding this section of Paul’s letter to the Galatians hinges on verse 10, which serves as a kind of transition.   In the first nine verses of this letter, Paul stated his reason for writing it, now he turns his attention to his first main point, the Gospel.  But verse 10 connects this first main point to his reason for writing the letter—

Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.  (1:10)

He had been accused of being a “man pleaser” by his opponents and with verse 11 Paul launches into an explanation of the Gospel and where it really came from.

1.  The Gospel came from God, verses 1, 2

I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.

Many so-called gospels were floating around during Paul’s day.  Each “gospel” claimed to be the “only” gospel.  Some of Paul’s opponents asked, “There may be only one gospel, but how do we know Paul’s is the right one?”  Paul’s answer to this is to stress the supernatural origin of the Gospel he received from Jesus Christ.  The fact is, the Gospel Paul preached was not his own; he was not preaching words designed to please anybody.

Paul denies three obvious sources of his gospel:

  • It was not written or made up by any man;
  • He did not receive it from any man.  In other words, he is not merely parroting what he was taught;
  • He was not taught it like a student would be taught something.  While most of us learn the Gospel this way, Paul says he did not.

Paul’s amazing claim was that he received the Gospel through a special revelation from Jesus Christ Himself.  This is not referring to a “general” revelation, like through preaching, but rather to a special and personal revelation.  In other words, he was taught the Gospel by Jesus just like all the other apostles were.

2.  Before Christ:  zealous opposition, verse 13, 14

For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it.  I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.

Paul reminds his friends in Galatia that they knew all about him.  Indeed, Paul was well-known in Christian circles as Saul, the persecutor of Christians.  But he was also well-known as a strict adherent to the Jewish faith.  He refers to his Jewish faith his former “way of life.”  His faith was not merely an outward exercise; it was the way in which he lived.

In this very brief autobiographical section, Paul describes two particular points of his past. First, he hated anything to do with Christianity and was committed to persecuting the Christian church.  Second, he was a zealous Jew.  The Greek words translated “extremely”are kath hyperbolen, meaning “to an extraordinary degree” or “beyond measure.”  So Paul is painting a picture of one absolutely sold out and committed to his beliefs; he was what we would refer to as a “fanatic” in every sense of the word.  This fact alone makes the next verse so startling.

3.  Anointed from birth, verse 15a

But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace…

This verse startles us because it is so unexpected.  We may expect Paul to write something like this:  “As I was persecuting the church, God suddenly and miraculously called me.”  But no, he says God “set him apart” before he began to zealously persecute the church.  This statement reflects what the prophet Jeremiah wrote—

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.  (Jeremiah 1:5)

The Greek word Paul used for “set me apart” is aphorizo and actually means two things:  “separated from” and “separated to.”   As Paul used it here, it refers to his special appointment or commission to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  God appointed Paul to do this at his birth.  The KJV makes this verse even more startling—

But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by his grace…

That first phrase, “when it pleased God” means that God wanted Paul; it was God’s will to, according to 16, send this man Paul to the Gentiles.

This verse begs the question:  Would God have chosen Paul as a baby if He knew what kind of man Paul would grow up to become? The answer is a loud YES.  God makes no mistakes.  Of course this verse is referring to God’s sovereign choice, but it also reveals much about the character of God.

First, the words, “who separated me” and “called me by his grace” reveal not only the sovereignty of God, to do what He wants in choosing people we may not to choose, but they also demonstrate God’s incredible love and mercy.  We could easily picture God choosing a man sympathetic to Jesus Christ’s message as the one destined to carry it to the Gentiles, but Paul?  A man confirmed enemy to the Gospel?

Second, the most powerful thought of all:  God did not wait until Paul proved his worth to the kingdom or proved his faithfulness to Christ’s Kingdom before appointing him to a specific task within that kingdom.  From the moment of Paul’s birth, God had a plan for Paul’s life and God was never discouraged from that plan by Paul’s momentary behavior.  What a marvelous and comforting thought!  It adds meaning to what Paul would write to the Ephesians—

In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.  (Ephesians 1:11)

Third, we have in this verse not only God’s effectual call of salvation through sanctification, but we also see the assignment of a very specific task and a call to complete surrender to God; what Hendriksen refers to as “plenary apostleship.”  Regardless of anything else Paul may engage in, God had called him to make fulfilling His will the most important thing in Paul’s life.

So we have in Paul’s anointing and appointing an illustration of God’s grace, for if God’s grace could transform a man who lived to wipe out the message of the Cross into man who fearlessly preached the message of the Cross, how much more can grace change us?  Paul’s stainless career as a Jewish student and teacher of the law, in fact, only served to make God’s grace stand out ever more.

4.  The primary purpose of Paul’s calling, verse 16a

To reveal his Son in me.

The KJV brilliantly exposes why God’s grace was demonstrated so graphically in Paul’s life:  to reveal Christ in him.  If God had called Paul to take the Gospel to the Gentiles, the purpose of that calling was also to highlight something about God:  he could be gracious enough to use a man like Paul to graciously save people like the Gentiles.

Everything about our salvation should point to the graciousness of God.  Indirectly, then, Paul’s call—and our calling—was not just to be saved, not just to a specific task to be performed within the Body of Christ, but also to a life of consecration and dedication whereby the image of Christ was to be so totally engraved upon his heart that the world, when it looked at Paul, would see it.  So it should be with us.  When Christ comes into our hearts, we are created anew; we may look the same, we walk the same, we may talk the same, but Somebody new lives inside.  When people look at us, do the see Jesus?

Another question this may prompt is this:  Can we separate God’s calling to salvation from His calling to a specific task? Perhaps Peter answered this question in his first letter—

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.  (1 Peter 2:9)

The answer, then, is no.  God calls us to be saved, so that we may be engaged in His work, so that He may be seen and glorified in us.

Conclusion

Paul’s life-changing experience with Christ became the motivating factor in everything he did and it was the focal point of his life.  Today, the Christian needs a comparable point of reference in their lives.  While Paul’s experience with the risen Lord on the road to Damascus was truly unique, it illustrates the need for a personal encounter with the risen Lord in the life of all men.  Christ’s presence in a life is the spiritual reality so many people are looking for today.  We may try many other things:  meditation, good works, church attendance, etc. to create that spiritual reality, but what we need is a confrontation with Christ.  One does not “ooze into” Christianity, as Paul Little observed.

An encounter with the risen Lord is the beginning of a new life in every man—a transformed life begins with that encounter.  When Jesus Christ meets a person where they live, He remakes them and they are able to say, “I was once blind, but now I see.”

(c)  2009 WitzEnd

SAUL: The anointed

1 Samuel 10

The word “anointed” has different meanings depending on who is using it or who hears it.  Francis Havergal’s hymn, “Take My Life and Let it Be,” gives us a good sense of what “to be anointed” means:

Take my life and let it be, Consecrated, Lord, to Thee; Take my moments and my days, Let them flow in ceaseless praise.

One cannot be “anointed” of God until they are consecrated and devoted to God.  A preacher’s preaching cannot be anointed until he himself is dedicated to God.  And a preacher’s message cannot be anointed to those hearing it until they are consecrated and dedicated to God.   To be “anointed” is to be set apart for God’s purposes.  It is not some tingly, warm feeling a person gets when they hear a good sermon.

Sir Edwin Arnold wrote in The Light of Asia, Book Four:

While life is good to give, I give.

Too bad so many Christians have never read The Light of Asia.  Too bad many so Christians give the left overs of their lives to God, keeping the good parts for themselves.  Too bad so many Christians put off serving God in their youthful, young, and energetic years, deciding in their declining years to “get serious” with Him.  What a waste of good years.  No wonder so many church members leave a Sunday morning service not feeling a thing when they, in fact, met with God; they were there in body, but their minds were far away.  They were not “anointed.”  The preacher may have gone through the motions of preaching, but that sermon did not come from his heart and soul because his was not “anointed.”  That “anointing” is something we all want, but we do not want to do what is necessary to obtain it.   I may call myself a “Minister of the Word and Sacrament,” but that in no way anoints my words.

We expend so much of our time and energy chasing our dreams and building our little “empires” that very little is reserved for God.   We may be engaged in worthy and worthwhile endeavors, but that does not mean they are done in God’s Name and for His glory.

Saul and David were all chosen or anointed by God while they were young.  They served a great master, and that great master deserved great servants.  In young Saul, we see a “choice young man.”   And while we all know how Saul’s life fell apart, at least early on we see a life full of promise and potential.  Saul had everything going for him as a young man.

1.  He was separated by anointing, verse 1

Then Samuel took a flask of oil and poured it on Saul’s head and kissed him, saying, “Has not the LORD anointed you leader over his inheritance?”

The process of making Saul Israel’s first king necessitated two main steps:   First was a private ceremony, which is described here.  The second step was the public choice followed by a public coronation.

The flask of oil Samuel used contained the all-purpose olive oil, but here it was designated as “sacred” oil.  Psalm 89:20—

I have found David my servant; with my sacred oil I have anointed him.

This is God speaking; God, through Samuel, anointed the kings of Israel, beginning with Saul.  It was God Himself who set Saul apart from crowd to fulfill His purposes for His people.  A monarchy was not God’s will for His people, but He was the One who allowed men to ascend the throne.  In ancient Israel, both priests and kings were called out and anointed like this.  This anointing of God set them apart from the general population.

All of God’s servants, in fact, are chosen and anointed like this, spiritually if not actually.  1 John 2:27—

As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him.

John was writing to church members, not church leaders.  Believers—people in the pew—are all anointed of God, whether they realize it or not.  What does that mean?  It means that believers—true believers—are set apart by God for a purpose.  Are you set apart? Or from God’s perspective, do you just blend in with the hordes of sinners all around you?  Christians should be separated from the world around them; you are anointed, like Saul, and you should live anointed lives; lives that are markedly different from your unbelieving neighbors.

In the case of Saul, he was informed of God’s will, and shortly thereafter the sacred anointing oil was applied.  In our case, as soon as we know the will of God as revealed in His Word, we should be separated from the world to Him.  Paul wrote to the Ephesians, reminding them of this very fact—

Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit.  (Ephesians 1:13b)

2.  He was encouraged by promises

God had anointed Saul but He did not leave him high and dry; God, through Samuel, gave His new king a three-fold promise concerning:

  • His immediate concernsWhen you leave me today, you will meet two men…They will say to you, ‘The donkeys you set out to look for have been found.  (verse 2) When God anointed Saul He met one of Saul’s pressing needs.  Remember, Saul was out looking for his father’s donkeys and was worried about his father.  God anointed Saul and promised to care of that routine, everyday problem immediately.
  • His physical needs“Then you will go on from there until you reach the great tree of Tabor. Three men going up to God at Bethel will meet you there. One will be carrying three young goats, another three loaves of bread, and another a skin of wine.  They will greet you and offer you two loaves of bread, which you will accept from them.”  (verses 3, 4) God anointed Saul and God made sure Saul was would be well fed and his physical needs would be taken care of. 
  • His spiritual needsThe Spirit of the LORD will come upon you in power.  (verse 6a). God promised to give Saul the depth of spiritual insight he would need.

And so God promised that Saul would be given everything he would need to be anointed.  He could easily be set apart from the world to fulfill God’s purposes because God Himself would give Saul whatever he needed; Saul would never again need to be a part of the world around him.  This three-fold promise has also been given to Christians according to Romans 8:32—

He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?

If only Christians could practice the faith they profess to have.  We claim to believe in the Word of God, yet we live like we are the ones who have to provide “all things” for ourselves.  If we had faith in and trusted God more, we might spend less time in spurious pursuit of “all things” and more time in pursuit the things of God.   It is easy to  object to that way of thinking, claiming the “Protestant Work Ethic” demands the majority of our time and effort.  God can take care of that, too, as He did with Saul, with the next point.

3.  He was changed, verse 9

God changed Saul’s heart, and all these signs were fulfilled that day.

It is impossible to live the kind of anointed life God demands without being changed in some way.  God changed Saul’s heart—a kind of regeneration—and God gave Saul new desires and new motives.  God can do that for all believers; this is what regeneration is all about.  David prayed to God—

Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.  (Psalm 51:10)

Do you find living a dedicated and consecrated life daunting?  Do you find the prospects changing your habits, hobbies, and attitudes distasteful?   Does the thought of forsaking certain people or pursuits seem unreasonable to you?  Do you find the demands of Scripture unreasonable?  The reality is not a single Christian can live a holy, separated  life—which God demands—on his own.  The good news is that God will make it possible for you to do so.  He gave Saul a changed heart, meaning Saul was made “another man” when the revelation of God’s purposes were made clear to him.  A very similar thing happens to us when we are born again—

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.  (2 Corinthians 5:17—18)

Nobody can be the same after the Kingdom of God has been birthed in their souls!  God makes us new people, as He made Saul a new man.  It is completely an act of grace; something done for us for our benefit to make living the anointed life possible.

4.  He was given assurance, verse 9

…all these signs were fulfilled that day.

The blessings of God become obvious to those whose lives are yielded to Him.  When our outward circumstances are made to conform to and confirm the thoughts and intents of our new inner lives, everything will change.  For Saul, when God regenerated his inner man, all His promises came to pass.  For us, when we make the effort live by faith according to Scripture, when we make the effort to live like the “new creatures” we are, God will make all things work together for our good; our whole perspective on life will change.  When God’s will is made known to us, and we willingly yield ourselves to the fulfillment of His will, we will see many “signs and wonders” coming into our lives as tokens of confirmation that God is pleased with us.  As one commentator observed:

The outer wheels of our circumstances never move contrary to the inner workings of the Spirit of God.  There may be wheels within wheels, but they are “full of eyes,” and so cannot err.

5.  He was empowered by the Holy Spirit, verses 10, 11

When they arrived at Gibeah, a procession of prophets met him; the Spirit of God came upon him in power, and he joined in their prophesying.  When all those who had formerly known him saw him prophesying with the prophets, they asked each other, “What is this that has happened to the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets?”

When a person is filled with the Holy Spirit and they yield themselves to Him, signs are sure to follow.  Notice that Saul looked like a prophet and joined in with the prophets; and why not?  Was he not filled with exactly the same Spirit as they were?  If you are born again, then you also are filled with the same Spirit that indwelt not only the prophets, but Jesus Christ as well.  Not only that, God’s blessing is contagious.  When Christians yield themselves to the Spirit of God within them, the move of the Spirit within them will touch others close by and they will yield themselves, just as Saul did in the company of the prophets.  This is, perhaps, one reason why so many of churches seem devoid and bereft of the power of the Holy Spirit:  nobody, including the pastor and elders, are willing to let go and let the Holy Spirit take over.  The tragic thing about that is we are robbing each other of something very precious:  a transcendent spiritual experience that will not only take us to new levels of spirituality, but our congregations as well.

6.  He was humbled, verses 21, 22

But when they looked for him, he was not to be found.  So they inquired further of the LORD, “Has the man come here yet?”  And the LORD said, “Yes, he has hidden himself among the baggage.”

The kingdom of God had come to Saul, not because he asked for or sought after it; it was given to him as a gift from God.  He could have been swollen with pride; instead he was humbled to the point of hiding from people.  He remained small in his own eyes despite the great blessings showered on him.  Sadly, this humility would leave him later in life, but for now this humility was real and was a part of his character.

7.  He was despised by some, verse 27

But some troublemakers said, “How can this fellow save us?” They despised him and brought him no gifts. But Saul kept silent.

The Hebrew calls these “troublemakers” “sons of worthlessness.”  There will always be those who doubt and make no allowance for the call of God or the move of God.  A lot of us, who serve the Lord, find this a reality in our own lives.  We are excited about God or something God has shown us in His Word, but nobody else is!   But this should come as no shock to us; if we have been made partakers of the fellowship of God, then we are also partakers of the sufferings of Christ.  He was made fun of, His teachings ripped and ignored; why should we be treated any differently?   The simple fact is, the more God blesses us and honors us, the closer we get to God, the more some—even within the Body of Christ—will cause trouble for us.

The last sentence in verse 27 is foreboding.  “Saul kept silent” in the face of his critics, so we are told.  Here was a man, full of holy boldness, anointed king, who did not answer his critics.  He should have; he would not have been defending himself, it was really God’s honor being snubbed here.  Why did he not say something?  Was he afraid?  Was his humility really just a mask for fear?   The apostle Peter wrote this—

But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.”  But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.  (1 Peter 3:14—16)

Did you catch what Peter admonished his readers to do?   He told them to do two things:

  • In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.  In other words, “anoint” Christ as Lord in your heart.  He anointed you; you must anoint Him.  As Christians, we all must set Christ on the throne of our hearts.
  • Always be prepared to give an answer.  When we are besieged by troublemakers, we must be ready to give an answer.  We owe it to God, we owe to those who are watching us, and we owe it to those troublemakers.

Saul had remained quiet when confronted.  This opened the doorway to trouble that could never be shut.

(c)  2009 WitzEnd

Practically Speaking, Conclusion

Prayer, Faith, Responsibility:  James 5:13-20

The connection of this last section of James to the letter as a whole is not instantly clear.  Because of this, these verses are interpreted in different ways.  This is unfortunate because depending on how you view these verses, you will either find them very encouraging or a great disappointment.  Some scholars see them as a bunch of unrelated closing thoughts, others see them as a logical progression of thought.

My own thought is that this closing section on prayer is somewhat connected to the preceding passage, specifically verse 12:

Above all, my brothers, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. Let your “Yes” be yes, and your “No,” no, or you will be condemned.

Prayer, not careless words, should be the believer’s response to suffering of any kind.

1.  The power of prayer and praise, verse 13

Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise.

The theme of verses 7-12 is proper Christian behavior in the midst of suffering.  The Greek word used in verse 10 and translated “suffering” is essentially the same word used in verse 13 and translated “trouble,” kakopathei.  You may have noticed that Christians have problems just like everybody else, but James tells us that Christians have a privilege and a duty that unbelievers do not.  In those time times of “trouble,” Christians may commune with God.   It is an ignorant believer who has not learned that:

[I]n all things God works for the good of those who love him.  (Romans 8:28)

If we can remember that, we won’t complain and grumble or make foolish promises when trouble comes.  Indeed, the Christian, who needs patience, will be find it in abundance if he prays.   As Burdick observed so succinctly:

Patience comes from God, and prayer is a good way to obtain it.

Human nature being what it is, James adds:

Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise.

Christians are very forgetful in good times.  We forget about God.  James gives us the proper perspective:  we are to be connected to God all the time, in good times and bad.  That is our privilege, and that is our duty.  He is a mighty resource in times of trouble and prayer is a way to tap into those divine resources.  He can give us, not only patience, but grace and the knowledge that we are not alone.  But not only that, when we behave properly and pray the moment problems come, others will see how what we are doing, whether we want them to or not.  And that will  bring glory to Him.

The same is true when we are praising Him.  God can make the good times in our lives even better and more meaningful and others, perhaps who are having problems, will be encouraged when they see and hear us praising the Lord.

2.  The power of faith, verses 14-16

These verses are terribly misunderstood, yet they are so simple when broken down to their basic components.

  • Is any one of you sick? Sickness is one form of “trouble,” and it’s one that all believers will face at some time.  This is why James is mentioning it here.  There are other forms of trouble not common to all believers.  Some of us will never lose all our possessions.  Some of us will never be involved in a car accident.  But all of us will eventually be sick.
  • Call the elders of the church.  The sick person, or someone at their request, must call the elders of the church.  The office of “elder,” presbyter, was one of the very first offices instituted in the church after it was founded.  An elder in the New Testament was one who represented the congregation (Acts 11:30; 21:18), and were men of impeccable character who exercised pastoral oversight of their congregation (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:1-4).  They were appointed by the pastor (a senior elder), not elected, in the New Testament (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5).
  • Pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord.  This is part of the verse that people misunderstand.  Two points need to be considered first:
  1. First, the emphasis is not on the oil, but on prayer.  Anointing the person with oil is to be considered a secondary act.  We know this because “pray” is the verb of emphasis, while “anoint” is a participle.  Also, the very next verse deals with prayer in more depth but we never read of anointing the person with oil again.
  2. Second, the application of oil probably has more to do with medicinal reasons than ceremonial.  The word James uses for “anoint” is aleipsantes, and is not the customary word used in the New Testament for the sacramental or ritualistic anointing of a person (Burdick).  In various places in Scripture we see that the Jews viewed olive oil as having special medicinal properties (Luke 10:34; Mark 6:13).  In James’ time, olive oil was to his people like an aspirin is to us today.

Some have viewed anointing the sick with oil as a symbolic act when combined with prayer.  This may be the case, however, it should also be noted that throughout the  book of Acts the apostles healed many people without anointing them with oil (Acts 3:6; 5:15-16; 9:34; 14:8-10; 16:18; 28:8-9).  This suggests to me that the admonition of James is not to be taken as a pattern for all time to be followed when praying for the sick.  In our modern vernacular, we might say, “If you are sick, call for the elders of the church to come and pray for you, and take your medicine.”

  • The prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well.  Again, this is one of those statements that, if taken the wrong way, leads to a world of disappointment.  James is not giving his readers a promise or a guarantee that the one who is prayed over will recover.  While the Bible does indeed teach the doctrine of divine healing, and while many of us believe that from time to time God does intervene in the affairs of man to perform miracles of healing and restoration, what James is saying here is simply this:  If the sick person recovers some time after being prayed over, it was the Lord who caused this to happen. All healing, whether instantaneous or gradual, whether with the use of medicine or without, is the result of God working in the human body.  No person can heal another person any more than a farmer can make the seed he planted in the ground grow.  All the farmer can do is create the conditions whereby the seed will likely grow.  This is what Christians are called to do:  both the sick person and the elders are to create the conditions whereby the Lord can, if it be His will, heal the person.
  • If he has sinned, he will be forgiven.  It was a common habit among the Jews to view all sickness as a result of sin.  Of course, we know this is not necessarily the case.  Although, in a general sense, all sickness is the result of living in a sinful and sin-cursed world.  The fact is, James seems to indicate that there are times when an illness may be the result of some sinful behavior.  The promise is clear; if this is the case, after the sin is confessed, healing will come.

Verse 16 is another verse often misunderstood.

Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.  This sentence should not be taken as a universal practice, but should be understood in its context:  the confession being made by the sick person of the previous verse and the prayer by the elders.

Having established the strict context, there is a broader application to be made.   Unconfessed sin hinders our prayer life and has the power to block God’s blessings.  Unconfessed sin is also an obstacle in our relationships within the body of Christ.   Common sense would indicate that in order to have a healthy relationship with both God and man, there should be nothing coming in between either of them.

While the text says “confess your sins to each other,” this should be exercised with discretion.  If we have sinned against an individual in the church, it is to him, then, we confess.  Curtis Vaughn writes:

Whereas the Roman Catholics have interpreted confession too narrowly, many of us may be tempted to interpret it too  broadly.  Confession of all our sins to all the brethren is not necessarily enjoined by James’ statement.  Confession is “the vomit of the soul” and can, if too generally and too indiscriminately made, do more harm than good.

  • The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.  Who is the righteous man?  Some see him as the sick one who has confessed his sin and been forgiven.  His prayer is now able to heard by God, unhindered.   Others see a broader meaning here; the “righteous man” is the one who is in a right relationship with God and member of the body of Christ.  There is another, more ominous reading of this sentence; ominous for those who do not know God.  The only prayer of the unrighteous heard by God is the prayer for salvation.  Therefore, be default, any prayer prayed by a child of God will be powerful and effective, not because of our righteousness or merit, but because of Christ.

Before moving on to the next verse, it would be wise to interject at this point the obvious.  All our prayers must be prayed with the understanding the God’s will must be respected.  Suppose the sick person does not recover.  Is it because of a lack of faith?  Is there unconfessed sin?  Perhaps, but not always.  Recall an incident in Paul’s life, who definitely had the gift of healing.  He seems to have been unable to heal his friend Epaphroditus from a long illness that almost killed him (Phil. 2:27).  There is also a statement in 2 Timothy 4:20 to be noted:

Erastus stayed in Corinth, and I left Trophimus sick in Miletus.

It’s hard to imagine Paul leaving anybody sick without praying for them first!

3.  An example, verses 17-18

Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.

Again, human nature being what it is, tends to view people within the church who seem to be righteous and seem to have their prayers answered all the time as “spiritual giants” or as extraordinary people.  James gives us an example of an average man, Elijah, who had no super human powers, yet his prayers yielded amazing results.   The prophet’s prayers were answered, so says James simply because:  (1)  he prayed “earnestly” and (2) he was a righteous man.  James’ point:  all believers are capable of such a prayer life.

4.  Our responsibility, verses 19-20

My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

James begins his closing exhortation the same way be began his first:  Brothers.  Although last two verses seem to be independent of the rest of this chapter, they are, in fact, tied together.

The theme of sin and confession is continued; this could relate  back to the sick person who has asked for and received forgiveness;
The ministry of restoring one to the faith is carried out with the same fervent prayer he referred to earlier (Harper)

This section gives us a clue to what is on James’ heart.  Correcting a believer in danger–setting them right–is the responsibility of all believers.   The words “one” and “he” indicate that this loving ministry of “personal evangelism” is something all members of the body of Christ should be engaged it.

The final words of this letter are taken from Proverbs 10:12,

Hatred stirs up dissension,
but love covers over all wrongs.

These words are also quoted by Peter in his letter, 1 Peter 4:8.  What exactly is James, and Peter, saying exactly?  In Proverbs, this verse indicates the sins covered up are the social consequences of sin.  Hatred, as the Proverb says, causes all manner of problems.  Love has the opposite effect, it covers,and  prevents, those problems from happening.  Peter wrote that love covers or prevents anger and retaliation in the other person.  In both Proverbs and Peter’s letter, the action of the righteous man in response to the the sins of the other person is seen having the effect of nullifying the results of the sin of the erring one.  Instead of bullying a fellow believer who has wandered from the truth, if we work to restore that person, we might be able to head off any dissension or other problems.

James’ closing sentence is a fitting way to end this most practical of all Biblical writings.

Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

Tasker wrote this:

No duty laid upon Christians is more in keeping with the mind of their Lord, or more expressive of Christian love, than the duty of reclaiming the backslider.

Many Christians  are “long on theory but short on practice.”  Those of us like that would do well to study James’ writing and put into practice the what we have learned.

(c)  2008 WitzEnd

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